Sunday, May 11, 2014
News, Saqqara: 3,100-year-old tomb of a royal messenger named Paser reveals visions of the ancient Egyptian afterlife
The ancient Egyptians believed that when a person died, parts of their soul known as ka – a body double - and the ba – a person’s personality - would go to the Kingdom of the Dead.
And now a tomb with a remarkable painting of the afterlife has been uncovered. It dates back to around 1,100BC and was uncovered in Saqqara, around 18 miles (30km) south of Cairo, according to Egypt's Antiquities Ministry.
The tomb belongs to a guard of the army archives and royal messenger to foreign countries, Egyptian Antiquities Minister Mohamed Ibrahim said. Chris Eyre, professor of Egyptology at the University of Liverpool’s School of Archaeology, Classics and Egyptology (SACE) deciphered hieroglyphs for MailOnine and said that the guard's name is Paser.
While his name might be common at the time, he was of high rank, shown by the elaborate tomb and its expensive bright blue decoration. The tomb contains a brightly coloured painting of the afterlife and several inscriptions.
It measures 12 metres long and six metres wide and was discovered by Cairo University’s Faculty of Archaeology. It can be dated back to the end of the Ramesside period, which is named after the eleven kings with the name Ramesses, who ruled in the Nineteenth to the Twentieth Dynasties.
Ola el-Egeizy, of the Cairo University said the tomb contains ‘very nice inscriptions’ of the funerary procession and the afterlife of the deceased. Professor Eyres said that is 'remarkable' that the full height of the wall is preserved, which is 'very unusual' for this type of open courtyard tomb.
The structure was found near another one dating back to the same period, which belongs to the head of the army. It was discovered in the previous excavation season.
That tomb is larger but much of what remains is mud bricks as 'most of its stone blocks were stolen and many of them are in museums all over the world,' said Mr el-Egeizy.
Because of the blocks, archaeologists had long known that the tomb of the messenger existed, although it was not uncovered until recently. One panel shows the god of the afterlife Osiris and with other figures processing with objects integral to the body's wellbeing for eternal life.
Another panel pays tribute to the guard in life, showing his three sons offering him items such as incense and a monkey can be seen, which might have been a pet.
Hieroglyphs spell out the man's title as 'chief of people who look after writings of the army,' Professor Eyre explained. One of the wall decorations is drawn as if it was a shrine and bears the name of the guard - Paser.
Despite being an important bureaucrat, it is not known if his name appears on other contemporary monuments, but as Saqarra was 'excavated' by early Egyptologists in the 18th century, there is a chance that artefacts that fit with the tomb will turn up in museum collections. 'Once a tomb emerges lots of museums find they have a bit here and there - but Paser is not particularly well known at this point,' Professor Eyre said. Many tombs have images of processions which show family members carrying objects needed in the afterlife, such as intense and water.
Paser's brother, Setti, who was a charioteer, carries a teapot-like vessel containing water, as the ancient Egyptians believed people needed a clean heart to be granted eternal life.A standard bearer from the army follows closely behind, although it is hard to tell whether the objects will be used to prepare Paser for his journey, or whether the scene is from the afterlife.
'The grammar of the inscriptions makes it unclear if people are dead or not,' professor Eyre explained. 'It's hard to know if this is a funeral of the afterlife. There's a deep continuity between this life and the next.
Mr. Ibrahim said that the discovery of the tomb adds ‘a chapter to our knowledge about the history of Saqqara’. Saqqara was the necropolis for the ancient Egyptian city of Memphis and site of the oldest known pyramid in Egypt.
The occupant of the tomb lived during a time characterised by great wars. Many of the events and instances of everyday life were carefully documented by scribes, including strikes by tomb workers.
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